LE ROY, Julien-David. Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce, considérées du côté de l’Histoire de l’Architecture …, seconde édition, et augmentée, Paris, Louis-François Delatour, MDCCLXX [1770]


Julien-David Le Roy (cir.1724/1728-1803) was a French architect, son of a watchmaker. He was already an accomplished architect, who had received awards for his work, when he settled in Rome in order to design Farnese Palace. Le Roy intended to take part in archaeological expeditions but, upon hearing that J. Stuart and N. Revett were at the task of delineating the monuments of Athens, he felt inclined to become the first to realize this project.

Thus, Le Roy sailed to Istanbul on a French war ship in May 1754 . Crossing the Aegean, he reached Athens by way of Smyrna and Delos in February 1755. He stayed in the city for a few months. With the aid of Capucine monks residing there and Pausanias’ text, he was able to identify the monuments, take measurements and draw. He then pursued his investigation in Piraeus, Sounion, Corinth, Thorikos and Sparta.

Le Roy returned to France in July 1755. Always eager to anticipate the publication of his English competitors’s work, he published this impressive edition in 1758, aided by the Count of Caylus. The English (1759) and the German (1764) translations were hurriedly released soon afterwards, both quite unpolished. In the same year, Le Roy was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Architecture. In 1762, he was appointed official historian to the Academy, in which he taught for forty years. Besides other works, he wrote a treatise on the evolution of Christian temples from Constantine the Great to the contemporary era. Inventive and imaginative, after completing his essay on ancient ships in 1787, Le Roy constructed a trirreme without much success.

Even though the monuments were drawn and measured in situ, Le Roy fails to render them with equal precision to Stuart and Revett, who did not hesitate to criticize him harshly. According to the aesthetics of the time, Le Roy consciously takes licence with representation, believing that the subject is superior to the image and emotion more important than exact depiction. He classifies Athenian monuments into two periods, those constructed before Pericles’s time and those built after the Golden Age of Athens.

After this second edition of 1770 was released, Le Roy was compelled to face the incisive but well-grounded ctiticism of Stuart and Revett. Nevertheless, Le Roy’s work greatly influenced the art and architecture of his time, and received a very warm welcome. From then onwards, all artistic and architectural creations were marked by the aspiration to return to the perfection of ancient Greek art.

Thus, the imaginary realm that constitutes the European vision of Greece in the 18th century, finds its graphic expression, as far as travel literature is concerned, in the sixty drawings realized by the eminent French architect, Stuart and Revett’s competitor. This work was released at the time when prominent scholar J.J. Winckelmann spoke of the supreme humanism of the Greek and the aesthetic ideal expressed in ancient Greek art, the same time when the European public had started to idealize antiquity.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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